Early October, theatre students Kathryn Geertsema and Frank Chung were two of 19 students participating in a profound three-day intensive workshop about Indigenous Storytelling with Aboriginal elders Muriel Miguel, Penny Couchie and Imelda Villalon. Funded through a grant from the Office of the Vice Provost Academic that supports the Indigenization of curriculum, the workshop introduced the participants to Miguel’s “story-weaving” technique, which integrates a form of movement analysis known as Laban with a creative, Indigenous approach to story creation and performance.
This is what they told AMPD News about the experience.
KG: I came away from the workshop with a greater appreciation for indigenous theatre. The emphasis on storytelling in indigenous culture is quite different from storytelling in western theatre. To generalize, there is often an emphasis in the West on results, while this workshop highlighted the importance of the journey.
FC: This workshop changed my understanding and approach of how to tell a story. In my education and reading there has been a consistent set structure of how to create and perform. The workshop introduced the concept of story weaving and the possibility that the story itself can breathe like its own individual spirit; that it is malleable yet concrete at the same time.
KG: Although we were asked to come prepared with stories, we were encouraged to abandon the strict structure we originally intended in favour of feeling how the story ought to be told. This form of indigenous theatre gave a marriage between preparation and improvisation. There was also a great emphasis on ensemble work: listening to one another’s stories, and finding the parallels between each story.
FC: There were parts of the workshop where multiple people would tell their stories individually. They were then story weaved, so they were still telling their story, but the stories were scattered and chopped up to make puzzle pieces that had to be put together. The weaving made a brand-new creation that was formed from amalgamating two or more stories. I had never seen new work formed so quickly before in a rehearsal studio. I have worked with my classmates for some time now, but when their work was weaved, it was like taking in a breath of fresh air.
KG: It fascinated me how often the stories we told echoed one another – stories we had prepared on our own but were now weaving together. Every time people had similar lines or referred to similar emotions, I wondered at how profoundly similar we are as humans, despite the different stories we tell. At the heart of it, we share so many fears and hopes.
FC: The last day of the workshop, everyone got to story weave their pieces together, using their bodies and voices to tell the story. There was one particular partnership (Sepehr Reybod, a 4th Year Actor, and Theatre Professor Eric Armstrong) that really touched me. To see Sepehr and Eric telling their stories and having moments when they connected was magical to see. I began to look past who I thought my teacher was, and instead approached it as two people simply trying to tell a story, express themselves and be honest with who they are.
KG: It is always important to learn about other cultures, and to realize that the Western emphasis on naturalistic theatre and performance is not the form of all theatre and performance. Especially in our goal-oriented culture, we seem to want to have a concrete use for skills: how does this apply to my career? But simply being aware of other performative techniques can enliven one’s creative life tenfold, while also keeping non-Western ideals alive.
FC: This workshop would be amazing for anyone, not just actors. I would highly recommend it to people who would like to know about Indigenous culture, mindset and simply how to be free and comfortable with who you are as a person. It made me realize the artistry and beauty behind being human, which I feel is something we all need to take more time to appreciate.